At least 44 migrants drowned on Sunday when their boat capsized off the coast of the Western Sahara, the migrant aid agency Caminando Fronteras has said.
Twelve others survived the tragedy, which happened when the boat sunk off the coast of Cap Boujdour, the agency’s Helena Maleno tweeted. The survivors were then arrested, Maleno wrote.
The bodies of seven victims were brought back to shore but the others could not be retrieved, she added.
There was no immediate confirmation from authorities in Morocco, which sees the disputed Western Sahara as an integral part of the North African kingdom.
It was not clear where the boat was heading, but usually migrants leaving from that area try to reach Spain’s Canary Islands.
Morocco is a key transit point on routes taken by migrants hoping for better lives in Europe.
On Friday, Morocco and Spain had said in a joint statement they were committed to strengthening cooperation on irregular migration.
It followed the 20th meeting of the Spanish-Moroccan Steering Group on Migration, co-chaired by Jesús Javier Perea, Spain’s Secretary of State for Migration, and the Moroccan Director of Migration and Border Surveillance, Khalid Zerouali. The meeting in Rabat was also be attended by the Secretary of State for Security, Rafael Pérez, and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Global Affairs, Ángeles Moreno, to ‘address bilateral collaboration between Spain and Morocco in managing migratory flows’.
More than 14,700 attempted irregular departures were prevented and 52 human smuggling networks broken up in Morocco during the first three months of this year, according to interior ministry figures.
Moroccan authorities stopped more than 63,120 crossings last year and shut down 256 smuggling networks.
According to the Spanish interior ministry, more than 40,000 migrants arrived in the country by sea in 2021.
That same year, according to Caminando Fronteras, 4,404 migrants died or went missing as they tried to reach Spain. Also read: NGO report claims over 4,400 migrants died trying to reach Spain during 2021.
🔴TRAGEDIA. Esta mañana han muerto cuarenta y cuatro personas en un naufragio al sur de Cabo Bojador. Siete cadáveres han sido trasladados a la morgue y el resto de las víctimas fueron tragadas por el mar.— Helena Maleno Garzón (@HelenaMaleno) May 8, 2022